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A CHORUS LINE, the Tony Award winning musical, presented by O’Connell and Company, wraps up its successful run this weekend.

THE BASICS:  A CHORUS LINE presented by O’Connell & Co. has three more performances at 3200 Elmwood Avenue in Kenmore.  For tickets call 716-848-0800 or visit oconnellandcompany.com.  The remaining three shows are this Friday, October 29th at 8pm, Saturday October 30th at 8pm (optional dinner package starting at 6:30 pm), with a final matinee Sunday October 31st at 2pm.  Runtime: 2 hours with one intermission (plentiful snacks and beverages available).

THUMBNAIL SKETCH: This is the beloved 1975 musical with music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban, whose original Broadway choreography and direction by Buffalo’s own Michael Bennett won two of the ultimately nine (9!) Tony Awards in 1976 including Best Musical and Best Score (Marvin Hamlisch).  Oh, and also the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Set on a bare stage, the musical introduces us to Broadway dancers auditioning for spots on a chorus line.  The musical offers us a chance to see beyond the footlights as the dancers answer questions from the mostly disembodied / unseen director “Zach” played by this production’s actual director, Dewayne Barrett.  They each describe their background, family lives, humiliations, and why they were determined to become dancers.

Anna Fernandez on stage at O’Connell & Co.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION:  This is one of my favorite musicals and I’ve often said that if I had (in my dreams) written the song “One” I would have retired on the spot, it’s so good.  I’m also a goner at “What I Did for Love” sung by the character “Diana,” here played by recent UB BFA graduate Anna Fernandez making her O’Connell & Company debut.  “Diana” also sings “Nothing” about the abusive high school drama teacher with the great line: “Nothing. They all felt something, But I felt nothing, Except the feeling, That this bullshit was absurd!”

I’m sure that many want to hear Cami Clune (Val) in her first musical in 5 years, after taking a break to focus on her solo music career.  She was on Season 19 of NBC’s “The Voice” where she received “a 4 chair turn,” worked with John Legend and Kelly Clarkson, and placed as a Semi-Finalist.  On stage here, as “Val,” she sang the song titled “Dance: Ten, Looks: Three” in which she sings about losing auditions until she spent some money on plastic surgery.  “Tits and ass, Bought myself a fancy pair, Tightened up the derriere, Did the nose with it, All that goes with it….”  Yes, it’s the song which most people refer to by its refrain “Tits and Ass.”  And Ms. Clume brings the right sassy attitude.

Anna Fernandez at the 2019 Arties

Unfortunately, many of our younger singers who a decade ago might have worked on that distinctive / projecting Broadway voice, imitating Lea Salonga, Megan Hilty, Idina Menzel might today be under the spell of current “whisper into the mic” singers such as Billie Eilish, Lana Del Ray, or Melanie Martinez.  The acoustics at 3200 Elmwood are not ideal and Ms. Clume, although animated, was not always audible.  On that note, Ms. Fernandez also was a little on the quiet side in “What I Did for Love.”

On the other hand, Aimee Lynn Walker as “Cassie” is more old-school and was able to belt out “The Music and The Mirror.”  Good for her. However, “Cassie’s Dance” (originally co-created with Michael Bennett and then danced to a Tony Award by Donna McKechnie) went on a bit long on this current stage.  I was told afterward by a Broadway maven that legally you can’t pare down the dance.  Oh well.

Another “oh, well” moment for me was not getting to enjoy my usual cry at “Paul’s story” told by actor Kevin Cusi.  It felt a little rushed so the punch line, the dad’s request as young Paul gets on the bus, didn’t hit me in the chest as it has in the past.  So, while we give major props to to director Dewayne Barrett who came from Chicago bringing long experience with this musical, most community theaters wouldn’t take on something this ambitious.  Working with a cast of 27, there will be moments where things may have been under-rehearsed.

But, here’s a tip:  for me the best dancing on the stage is done by a character who’s easy to miss as he’s leaning up against the proscenium in a drab grey outfit.  And that’s “Larry” the director’s assistant, in a role sort of like a dance captain, played by Collin McKee.  Very crisp.  Very Broadway.  Another highlight of the evening is the snappy, tappy “I Can Do That” sung by the character “Mike” (James Anthony Caposito).  And another applause moment is when “Bobbie” (Michael Kelleher) tells us that “I would always try to find ways to kill myself, but then I realized to commit suicide in Buffalo is redundant.”  Somehow I think that Michael Bennett had a hand in that line.

Two pieces of advice:  Sit close to the stage, closer to the singers, and sit in the center.  Otherwise you’ll be looking into the wings.  While A CHORUS LINE takes us “behind the scenes” we don’t actually have to look there during the entire show.

So, in alphabetical order, just as in the original, here is the cast of 26 (director, assistant, 17 finalists, 7 cuts).

Kristine      Lizzie Arnold
Zach           Dewayne Barrett
Sheila         Kris Bartolomeo
Greg           Joey Bucheker
Tom            Ryan Butler
Mike           James Anthony Caposito
Val              Cami Clune
Paul            Kevin Cusi
Al                Thomas Evans
Diana         Anna Fernandez
Connie       Cassidy Granchelli
Vicki           Grace Galipeau
Don            Joe Isgar
Mark          Brett Jackson
Tricia          Stevie Jackson
Bobby        Michael Kelleher
Bebe           Susan Laxton
Larry           Collin Mckee
Judy            Julia Murphy
Roy             Vincent Murphy
Butch         Matt Myers
Lois             Leanna Pulinski
Maggie      Emory Redfearn
Richi           Marc Thagard
Cassie         Aimée Lynn Walker
Frank          Michael Wells

The band, hidden off stage left, was led by Donald R. Jenczka: Piano/Conductor and was up for the job.

You can get more details on the website, but if you’re interested in the DINNER & SHOW package with dinner provided by Dolce Amore Catering there are three entrée choices: Chicken, Vegetarian Ravioli, Fish.  The dinner will be held on Saturday night at 6:30pm prior to the performance in the Community Room, which is located directly behind the stage.

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

All images courtesy of O’Connell & Co. | Lead image: Cami Clune as Val on stage at O’Connell & Co.

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